Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Tories Topple in Coal Crisis

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Tories Topple in Coal Crisis

Article excerpt

Byline: By Gavin Cordon

Tensions within Edward Heath's Tory government over how to deal with the miners' industrial action which finally brought his downfall are exposed in official files made public today under the 30 year rule.

1973 saw the announcement of the three-day week and plans drawn up for petrol rationing as ministers grappled with the twin threats of the miners' overtime ban and the oil crisis.

Documents released to the National Archives (formerly the Public Record Office) show how Heath faced conflicting advice from senior ministers and officials over how to deal with the situation.

When the National Union of Mineworkers announced an overtime ban on November 8 in support of a 35pc pay claim, Heath's strike-hit Government was forced to declare its fifth state of emergency in less than four years.

Ministers had been desperate to avoid another damaging clash with the miners following their humiliating climbdown the previous year when

they were forced to concede defeat to the NUM's flying pickets as failing coal supplies led to widespread power cuts.

Their position had, however, been fatally undermined by the decision by the Arab oil producers to cut exports over the Arab-Israeli war, leaving Britain even more dependent on coal for its energy supplies.

Heath - while determined to resist the miners' demands - had wanted to avoid dramatising the situation.

But he was under pressure from senior ministers and advisers who wanted to turn the dispute into a test of the Government's authority.

The files released to the National Archives include an extraordinary memorandum from Heath's private secretary, Robert Armstrong, who warned he faced charges of "Governmental blindness and inaction" if he tried to go on with "business as usual".

The memo, dated December 6, was written as Chancellor of the Exchequer Anthony Barber was preparing a pounds 1. …

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